So, after my initial encouraging noises to Mr Yump's suggestion of a couple of night's away with the family, camping in a highly rated campsite, I was suddenly silenced as the waves of reality crashed into my mind:
a) this is England and
b) this is Easter
However, as half the cost had to be paid upfront, it was too late to stop it: I am not in the habit of wasting money (unless it is over exuberant shoes...or cd's where only one song is listenable...or craft books) so off we went to the wilds of Sussex, a whole hour away.
Blackberry Wood is something magical, a relaxed wooded haven, away from the self-perpetuated stresses of our modern electronic lives: it provides the luxury of having one's own wooded space, a glade of one's own. Not only that, it is one of the very few campsites that allows campfires. Each pitch has its own fire pit, with logs, kindling and a very marvellous coal available on site. Cars are kept in the car park, which at first is annoying when setting up and pulling down camp, but is actually a fabulous idea: no cars coming and going at stupid times of the day. Therefore, a more rustic method is used to transport the wealth of camping ephemera:
We stayed in Bramble Hide, a clearing encased in a canopy of branches heavy with fresh buds.We strung up the obligatory bunting and regretted not shoe-horning in a crate of tealight lanterns that would have turned our little patch of woodland into nature's own Vegas. Mother Nature, however, likes a decorative flourish and threw enough stars into the Eostre sky to render Ikea's candle-housing obsolete.
The pitches are remote enough to be private yet close enough not to feel isolated. Indeed it was lovely to look around at night and see the welcoming glow of our neighbours' fires.
The toilet does flush and had an abundant supply of soft toilet roll.
The site specifies that no music is allowed other than nature's own radio and it is a 24 hour station, at it's liveliest at dawn. I hadn't realised that it is like chinese whispers: one bird sings a tune which is repeated by another, who adds his own flourish. Bird #1 then comes up with another song which is again repeated, and embellished, by bird #2, and so it continues. Then the other birds do their own versions of this very polite and civilised morning greeting, until the air is full of birdsong, each one fighting for attention through the engulfing fractured chorus. It's all very beautiful and stirring but quite frankly unneccesary at 4.30 in the morning. Throughout the day, those glorified chickens, pheasants, strut through the woodland with purpose and authority, the females following meekily. They holler, they fight like Colin Firth and Hugh Grant but, at the end of the day, it's refreshing to see them alive and vain rather than squished on the roadside on a many-bended country lane.
I like the basic aspect of camping: it all goes quite 'early man', when all that matters is keeping the fire going, finding something to eat (though not neccesarily hunting and killing it), cooking it and staying warm. (picking nits out of each others hair is optional: depends just how neanderthal you wish to get.) To live a life based around eating, drinking and stoking fires is luxury indeed and surely something to aspire to. Without meaning to sound like a complete hippy (and it might help to bear in mind that I am typing this on a laptop with the sound of trains coming into the station and the continual thrum of the nearest A-road in the background) but we need to stop once in a while and soak up the outdoors, release ourselves from the shackles of routine (albeit by setting up a new one) and pay attention to the wind running through the branches, the industrious tapping of the woodpecker, the hooting of a hungry owl,
over the bridge
via the tyre swing
past the swooning trunk
tiptoeing past the sleepy campers
...and stomping past the not-so-sleepy campers
snarling at the gnarly tree
...and back to put the kettle on.
The trip was seemingly sponsored by marshmallows, in particular marshmallows on skewers aflame, eaten whilst warm with a burnished crust (tasting of candyfloss) which we lovingly named 'Flaming Death' in honour of PT Flea's ill-advised circus finale, or squished, straight from the fire, betwixt two chocolate digestives. Luckily we packed our toothbrushes. In fact, we skewered many things, including hot cross buns (success) and grapes (unsuccessful) We also cooked popcorn in tinfoil which was going well in smaller batches before we set a larger batch on fire accidentally, thus making more charcoal.
Look how it burns!
Many lessons were learnt:
- a Sat Nav will take you the route the crow flies when what you actually need is the route the crow would take were it on crutches
- marshmallows have three purposes: the first is for the playing of Chubby Bunny, the second is to be offered up as sacrifices to The God of The Flame in order to create Flaming Death and the third is for lazy Smores
- wet wipes aren't just for babies: they're for life
- you can't beat a real fire, but you can successfully fan it's flames with a dustpan
- kids should climb trees, fall over and get dirty more often than they do
- sleeping bags are evil, like a Snorkel Parka / babygrow hybrid.
Whilst I would love to embrace the whole sheepskin rugs and duvet glamping approach, pod-size and car logisitcs dictates that we must use sleeping bags. I have added them to my list of things I would like to torch when my hormones finally get the better of me.
- you can never have enough blankets
- only Ray Mears can set up a camp with a backpack full of essentials: you are not Ray Mears, you are not fighting for your survival but have gone away to relax and recharge. You will be shocked by the amount of crap you deem essential for your basic comfort. Remember that you are not alone in this and that there will always be someone with more camping crap than you. As long as you clear it all up afterwards, it doesn't matter
- in reference to the above: you will never have a car big enough for all your camping gear. If you should succumb to 'glamping', you will need a tour bus (or just a bus)
- wellies are your friends and they love you. All other shoes should be ashamed of their uselessness and hide their embarrassment by staying in the car
- camping is essential for those that live in teeny houses: the feeling of space on your return is immeasurable
Now go hug a tree...or have a snoozle against one